Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crunchy Tofu Nuggets

Ah, "kid food."  Who doesn't love kid food?  Personally, if I made the rules there would be no such thing in this world as "kid food" -- kids would be exposed to a wide variety of different cuisines (and receive lots of praise from their grown-ups for trying new things,) while adults would be "allowed" to love things like macaroni and cheese, french fries, and crunchy nuggety-type things!

Enter Crunchy Tofu Nuggets.  I based my recipe on this recipe from Fine Cooking, but after careful thought and a couple of trials, I learned my version was MUCH better than the original.  What changes did I make?  For starters, I really wanted to bake these nuggets.  Yes, baking is healthier than frying, but really ... I was motivated by laziness.  I didn't want to stand over a splattering pan of hot oil, likely watching the crispy coating I had so artfully applied to my tofu nuggets disintegrate in the oil (because, you know, I suck at frying things); I also didn't want to clean up said splattering oil from my stovetop.  Baking sheet, parchment paper, cooking spray ... love you guys.

After following the original recipe the first time, I realized Fine Cooking erred on the side of using WAY too much cornstarch, liquid, and breadcrumb for the coating.  Who loves dumping ingredients down the drain?  Not I.  The original recipe also made WAY too much dipping sauce, in my opinion, and could easily be replaced just by a tablespoon or so of extra hoisin sauce.  Love it when things are simpler AND tastier!

I also prefer to use "super firm" tofu these days, because, well ... like I said before, I can be just a wee bit lazy sometimes.  Who wants to spend all that time pressing tofu when you can buy it pre-pressed? Not me, I tell you!  (Plus, the super firm tofu has a little more protein per serving than regular tofu -- a bonus for this slave to MyFitnessPal.)

So, after several tweaks to the original recipe, I'm happy with my version of Crunchy Tofu Nuggets -- and hope you are, too!

Crunchy Tofu Nuggets
serves 2 or 3

olive oil or cooking spray
one 10-ounce package "super firm" tofu (or regular firm or extra-firm tofu, pressed well)
1/3 c cornstarch
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp prepared hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt (divided)
1/4 tsp chili-garlic sauce
3/4 c panko (I like to use a combination of white and whole-wheat crumbs)
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spray or lightly brush the parchment with olive oil.
2. Cut your tofu into sticks, triangles, or cubes.
3. Grab three shallow bowls.  Add the cornstarch to the first bowl.  Whisk together the egg, hoisin, vinegar, oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and chili-garlic sauce, and add to the second bowl.  Combine the panko, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and pepper in the third bowl.  Visual aid:
4. Bread the tofu: coat each piece of tofu first in the cornstarch, then in the egg mixture, then in the crumbs.  (Helpful tip: assign yourself a "wet hand" and a "dry hand" for this process, because things get frustrating if your hands get all mucky.  I like to remember to keep my dominant hand my "dry hand," because there are more dry steps than wet.)  Arrange the tofu on the baking sheet with plenty of room between each nugget.  Brush or spray the tops of the nuggets with oil.
5. Bake the tofu for about 15 minutes.  Use tongs to flip the tofu pieces, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until your nuggets are golden brown and very crunchy.  Serve immediately, with extra hoisin for dipping and some steamed broccoli (and if you're really feeling the comfort kid-food vibe, sweet potato tater tots, too!)

(Note: leftover nuggets are just okay.  They reheat well enough in the oven, but the coating tends to fall off.  They are not great microwaved.)

I have been loving these for quick dinners for myself, and served them to an omni friend who was also really pleased.  I have been toying with the idea of coming up with a honey-mustard version sometime soon.  :)  What traditionally "kid-food" meals do you enjoy?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vinegar of the Four Thieves

I am more than a little obsessed with DIY these days.  I started in the kitchen, making as many foodstuffs as humanly possible, and once I was starting to feel confident that I could tackle just about any (vegetarian) recipe I felt like making, (English muffins!  Bagels!  Yogurt!  Ricotta!  Sauerkraut!  Pickles!) I decided it was time to branch out into the cleaning, laundry, and health/beauty territories.  I picked up a copy of Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, and since then, have been dabbling with a variety of homemade things around the house, using both recipes from this book and randomly from google searches.

I make cold process soap.  (I highly recommend this book if you are interested in getting started.)  I make my own deodorant.  I make my own sea salt hair spray.  I make my own hand creams and lip balms.  When I had a dishwasher, I made my own dishwasher detergent.  I make my own powdered laundry soap.  I "make" my own fabric softener (i.e. white vinegar added to the rinse cycle!)  I made my own wool dryer balls.  And recently, I make my own cleaning products!

Now, I keep a tidy house.  I like things to generally be well-organized, put away, otherwise "taken care of."  But a clean house?  Notsomuch.  Don't get me wrong ... I'd love it if I could eat off my floors, but realistically, between the cat and the fact that I HATE to clean, my house is never going to be as spic-and-span as it could be.

However, I've realized that, since I've started using homemade cleaning products, I don't mind cleaning nearly as much as I used to.  There's something satisfying about being able to clean your stove to a sparkling finish with nothing more than borax and a drop of liquid soap, and not choking on toxic fumes while doing so is a definite bonus.

I've been using a diluted vinegar spray to clean the kitchen countertops for a while now, and really like it.  (I especially like that I can just use the dish rag to wipe up the vinegar, since there are no funky smells or chemical residues that would otherwise "contaminate" the dishwater.)  I decided to take a stab at making a batch of "Vinegar of the Four Thieves" for extra disinfecting power (and a delightful, herbal smell, too!)

If you google "vinegar of the four thieves," you'll find any number of websites full of lore related to the concoction, from the super-crunchy granola people (am I one of them?) to websites on witchcraft and spell casting.  Overwhelmed by too much information, (thank you, internet,) I flipped through Making It, stumbling on a simple recipe for general use.  The recipe is easy enough -- steep dried herbs in white vinegar for six weeks, strain, and use (diluted) as a general disinfectant.  Done!

Vinegar of the Four Thieves
yield: about one quart

2 tbsp each dried lavender, sage, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme
1 quart white or apple cider vinegar (white vinegar is fine for cleaning, or use apple cider vinegar if you want to use the vinegar for salad dressings or health tonic type uses)

1. Add dried herbs to a one-quart mason jar.  Fill the jar almost to the top with vinegar.  Cover the top of the jar with a layer of plastic wrap, then the jar lid.
2. Store the vinegar in a cool, dark place (under my kitchen sink worked well,) for six weeks, shaking the jar daily (or as often as you think to!)

3. Strain out the herbs, dilute the vinegar with water (1:1 ratio,) and use as a general disinfectant spray.  Enjoy the lovely pinky-orange color and herbal fragrance!

I admit, I never would have thought that I would be the kind of person who would be making her own soap and cleaning supplies.  What skills and hobbies have you acquired that have pleasantly surprised you?

(P.S. These are not affiliate links in this post.  I don't make any money by blogging; I just like to share good ideas and resources with others.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kale Chips

Yes, kale chips.  I admit, I am LATE to the kale chips party.  Like, so late, they've already turned on the lights and someone has started cleaning up.   But, whatever!  Kale chips are nutritious, salty-savory, crunchy, and low in calories, and I'm so glad I finally figured out how to make them, because I've been going through at least a batch per week.  If I had more storage space, I'd probably make a double-batch every week, but well ... those big containers do occupy some prime kitchen counter retail!

When I say "finally figured out how to make them," I'm clueing you in that it was an extensive learning process for something so simple.  The original recipe I followed for kale chips called for baking the chips at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes; sometimes this worked out okay, sometimes this turned into an epic fail.  Some kale bits would still be wilted and soft, while others were beginning to burn around the edges.  (Imagine me making a sad face here.)

Taking a lesson from Lorna Sass's recipe for "Granola, Revisited," I decided the "low and slow" approach might, indeed, be the best way to make kale chips.  I was right!  A 200 degree oven and lots of patience yielded a consistently crispy chip with nary a hint of burned edges.  A perfect Sunday afternoon project for days when you are otherwise hanging out around the house, cooking, cleaning, couching, whatever.

Enjoy.  As far as I'm concerned, better late than never, right?

Kale Chips
3 servings 

1 bunch curly green kale (I do prefer dino kale for most recipes, but not this one.  I make kale chips only with green kale, because I love how the curly leaves grab hold of the seasonings so well!)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Wash and dry the kale well.  Stem the kale and tear into bite-sized pieces.  (Another reason I love green kale for this recipe is because it tends to grow in lobes that are perfect kale-chip sized pieces.  Easy to tear up!)  Toss the kale with the oil, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and salt, until the oil and seasonings are evenly distributed.  (I find it's easiest for me to do this with my hands.)
3. Divide the kale evenly between two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Bake for about an hour and 20 minutes, turning and rotating the sheets about every twenty minutes or so, shaking the pans.  Check and make sure the chips are completely dry and crisp before removing them from the oven.
4. Cool the chips completely, then store in an airtight container.  Try very hard not to eat the entire batch in one sitting. 

What recipes have you recently discovered that "everyone" has been making for ages?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lemon-Thyme Roasted Tempeh and Veggies with Barley-Mushroom Pilaf

As a skilled home cook and someone who gets excited about food on a fairly regular basis, I find myself the recipient of gifts of unusual ingredients at times.  Once, a friend brought me a celeriac for the sole purpose of seeing what I would do with it.  :)  (I made soup.)  I am the frequent recipient of "I bought this and now I don't know what to do with it -- you will!" ingredients, and occasionally, these special ingredients are selected just for me.

Such is the case with the mason jar full of "Purple Prairie Barley" that has been languishing in my cupboards for a year and a half.  While I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this gift ... I don't love barley, (I typically find it too chewy for my tastes,) and rarely cook with it.  I do enjoy using pearled barley in risotto-style meals from time to time, but as a rule, I don't keep barley on hand.  I don't recall ever cooking hulled barley previously, so this extra-special barley was a bit of a stumper.

Googling "recipe purple barley" brought me up short, too -- most of the recipes were for salads, which I'm just not in the mood for right now, and besides, the veggies required for these summery meals are no longer in season.  I also infrequently make "protein-veg-grain" meals, so I rarely am looking for a carb-heavy side dish.

Thinking a little more about barley, I remember that mushrooms are frequently paired with barley, and since I also had a packet of dried porcini mushrooms in my cupboard (which I believe were also a gift!) I decided the two were destined for pilaf territory.

But, what to pair with the rich, earthy, umami-rich pilaf I was dreaming up?  I needed something lighter and brighter, something that would wake up my palate and bring some color and interest to the plate.  Something that would provide contrast in both flavor and texture, without "fighting" the barley.  Lemon-Thyme Roasted Tempeh and Vegetables to the rescue!

Barley-Mushroom Pilaf
4 to 6 servings

1 cup hulled barley, soaked for at least 8 hours and drained
1/2 oz dried mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, or a mixture of whatever you like or have on hand)
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
1 cup finely-chopped onion or leek (white and light green parts)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt/to taste
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme

1. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil.  Add the dried mushrooms, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft and the broth is infused with mushroomy-goodness.  Strain, reserving both the mushrooms and broth.  Stem the mushrooms (if needed) and finely mince.
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent.
3. Add the soaked/drained barley, vegetable broth, and minced rehydrated mushrooms, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  (I use a heat diffuser to prevent scorching the bottom layer when I cook most grains, but this is entirely optional, especially if you trust in your stove.)  Check the barley at this point -- if there is excess liquid, remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has cooked off.
4. Enjoy!  Leftovers freeze well, if you are so inclined.

Lemon-Thyme Roasted Tempeh and Veggies
4 servings

zest and juice of one lemon
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz tempeh
seasonal vegetables, cubed (I used eggplant, butternut squash, broccoli, and red bell pepper)

1. Make the marinade: combine the zest, juice, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil in a small food processor or blender (or in a mason jar, if you plan on using a stick blender.)  Puree until smooth and emulsified.
2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the tempeh, cover, lower the heat, and steam for 10 minutes.  Remove the tempeh and cool slightly.  Cut the tempeh into cubes, and gently toss with 2 tbsp of the marinade.
3. Toss the prepared vegetables with the remaining marinade.  (You can add the tempeh to the bowl, too, but it can be delicate and crumbly at this stage, so your choice.)  Allow the veggies and tempeh to marinade for at least 30 minutes, up to 24 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheight.  Dump out the veggies and tempeh onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Remove any delicate veggies (broccoli, asparagus, green onions, etc.) and set aside.  Roast the tempeh and sturdier veggies for 20 minutes.  Stir/flip the tempeh and veggies, add the delicate veggies, and return everything to the oven for 20 more minutes.
5. Enjoy!

I was pleased with how both of these recipes turned out, although I was definitely more pleased with the tempeh and veggies.  Blame the barley.  I just don't LOVE it.  Do you love barley?  I do have a couple cups of Purple Prairie Barley left ... what to do?  Any fabulous recipes to share?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Homemade Pumpkin-Spice Latte

There is a lot going on in the world to do with "pumpkin-spice" these days ... a lot of passion, both for and against the "issue."  Personally, I do enjoy pumpkin/squash foods in the fall, (pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry,) and warm spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves just pair beautifully with the vegetable.  Pumpkin muffins have always been a favorite of mine, (fresh from the oven and spread with softened cream cheese in my perfect world,) and I've been known to make a pumpkin pie in July at least twice.  What's not to like?  Pumpkin-spice just makes sense.  Cooks for centuries have been pairing spice with pumpkin, long before "PSL" became a "thing."  I'm definitely pro-pumpkin-spice!

I also love coffee.  Like, LOVE coffee.  The smell, the taste, the feel of the warm mug in my hands, everything about it.  Even though I quit caffeine earlier this year, I still look forward to that cup of decaf each morning.  As my friend Dora wisely proclaimed, "coffee isn't a beverage - it's an experience."  It's so much more than a jolt of caffeine.  A cup of coffee, (and yes, even decaf,) is a ritual I would be hard-pressed to start my day without!  So, yes, I'm pro-coffee, obviously.

I suppose being pro-pumpkin-spice and pro-coffee makes me pro-pumpkin-spice latte?  I certainly wouldn't call myself Starbucks' #1 fan, (mostly because I really just don't care for their coffee,) but a couple of my coworkers share a passion for the "PSL."  Since I'm too broke right now to pay five bucks for a cup of coffee but not one to be left out of a culinary trend creating this much excitement, I decided to try my hand at making my own "PSL" at home.  Needed to see what all the fuss was about, y'all.

Since I own neither an espresso machine nor a milk frother, I needed to think outside the box a bit and use the tools I had at my disposal.  I have been using a Toddy to brew coffee for years, and figured, Toddy concentrate is a bit like espresso, at least in its level of coffee-intensity.  (Yes, I know . . . Toddy concentrate and espresso really are nothing alike, but since you lose the subtlety of an expertly-brewed espresso shot the second you dump it into a mug full of milk, I don't think anybody will notice, right?)  I also happen to have a Ninja blender, and figured with a few seconds of blending, I'd get a decent froth from heated, whole milk.

Once I figured out how I was going to make a latte at home, I had to resolve the whole pumpkin-spice situation.  Enter, homemade pumpkin-spice syrup:

Pumpkin-Spice Latte Syrup

3/4 c water
1/2 c granulated sugar
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients except for the vanilla in a small saucepan.  Bring to a high simmer, cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Strain the syrup through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.  Stir in the vanilla.  Cool, then store in the fridge.

I then combined 1 tbsp of my homemade Pumpkin-Spice Latte Syrup with 3/4 cup whole milk and 1/4 cup Toddy coffee concentrate, heated the mixture to just below boiling, poured the whole thing in the blender, and blended the heck out of it for a few seconds.  Voila!  A wholesome, homemade, all-natural, organic PSL, brimming with foam.  Delicious, slightly-sweet, creamy, subtly spiced, and a nutritional bargain at 148 calories; if you use unsweetened almond milk instead of the whole milk, you'll enjoy a mere 58 calories!  (Yes, I'm counting . . . forgive me?)  (By the way, almond milk will give you considerably less foam using this method, but it's still delicious.)

I'm glad I hopped on the (homemade) PSL bandwagon.  Won't you join me?

What "trendy" foods have you been enjoying lately?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

divorce pickles

(Please note … this is a highly personal post, very little to do with food.  I have debated how much of my news of the past months to share, and in what format, and I decided to share this.  I chose to share quite a bit.  I feel our culture doesn’t talk openly and honestly about marriage, real marital problems, or grief, and here’s what I can do to change that.  Consider yourself warned.  Or skip this post altogether if you don't want to know that much about my life!  Please leave a comment if you feel motivated to do so, but please remember that I am a real person with real feelings; keep comments respectful.  Thanks.)

If I have any readers left at all out there, you may be wondering where I’ve been since my last post in June.  Well … a lot has happened in my life since June.

The short version?  I filed for divorce.  After just over 20 months of marriage.

“What happened?” you wonder?

Well, what do you do when, only a few short months into your marriage, you realize your husband is overwhelmed by your everyday feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety, or stress?  Feelings that every normal person has, most days?
You stop talking about those feelings.  Full stop.  You censor every word that comes out of your mouth for months.  (Let me tell you, bottling things up never works.  Just saying.)

What do you do when, only six months into your marriage, your husband stops having sex with you?
You let him.  You wonder.  You worry.  You start to feel really crappy about yourself.  You try to figure out why.  You start to talk about it.  Carefully.  Tentatively.

What do you do, when, a year into your marriage, you’re feeling ready to be a mom, but your husband still won’t have sex with you?
You try to talk to him about it.  It doesn’t go well.  You keep trying to talk to him about it.  It continues to not go well.

What do you do when your husband tells you you need to be “more independent?”
You burst out laughing in his face, because you are one of the most independent people you know.  This is confirmed by nearly every person you know.

What do you do when your husband takes a night job, 7-days a week, in an effort to “make more money,” but you come to realize, is really in an effort to avoid you?
You push.  You chase.  You text.  You call.  You demand date nights.  You demand dinners together.  You start to panic.  You start to feel afraid.  You no longer trust in the relationship.  You feel alone.

What do you do when, every time you ask your husband how the two of you are going to fix your marriage, his reply is, “just stop talking about it, and things will get better on their own?”
You try to stop talking about it.  But really, you know that’s impossible.  Feelings bubble up.  Things slip out.  You argue.  You scream.  You both act despicably.  You both upset each other.  You both say things you don’t mean.

What do you do when you realize you are in over your head?  That the problems in your marriage are beyond what you are capable of handling on your own?
You find a couples counselor. 

What do you do when your husband physically shows up to counseling but doesn’t say a thing?  When your big, scary feelings go “splat” against the brick wall he has created in your relationship?
You keep going.  You hope for change.  You read four books about marriage, relationships, patriarchy, and male depression.  You begin journaling like a fiend.  You figure some stuff out about yourself.  You think you figure some stuff out about your husband.

What do you do when your husband insists that the only solution to the problems in your marriage is “space?”  That he wants to move out for a month of no contact at all, “just to see if we miss each other?”
You are crushed.  Shattered.

What do you do when you learn that your husband has been having an emotional affair with his ex-girlfriend over email for months?
You grow eerily calm.  You wonder how this happened, because you thought he wasn’t the kind of person that would do something like that.  You wonder whether you knew him at all.  You wonder whether he knows himself at all.

What do you do when your husband refuses to return to counseling after three sessions because “it’s not working?”
You go one last time by yourself, say goodbye and thank-you to your couples counselor, and bike back to work, sobbing.  You feel hopeless.

What do you do when your husband empties your joint checking and savings accounts, leaving you with a cashier’s check for $400?
Your shock and fear cause you to grow angrier than you ever thought possible.  Then, you stop and realize it’s only money, and money really just doesn’t effing matter.  You get new bank accounts, in your name only.  Your parents send you a check, which helps dissipate some of that anxiety about, you know, paying rent and stuff.

What do you do when your husband tells you that marrying you was a mistake?  That your relationship never should have progressed past your “supremely lame” first date?
You are confused.  He was the one who asked you out the first time, (and the second time, and the third time,) he was the one who said “I love you” first, he was the one who proposed, he was the one who was in such a hurry to get married your engagement only lasted for seven weeks.  You are confused, and more hurt than you ever thought you could possibly be.  You are rattled to your core.  Ripped open.  Raw.  Emotionally destroyed.

What do you do when your husband moves out?
You move out, too.  In two weeks.  You find an apartment, sign a lease, borrow money from a friend for the security deposit and first month’s rent, hire movers, get boxes, pack, and get the hell out of that place you shared with your husband.  You find a place that feels safe — a place that’s close to work, close to friends, close to church, close to the places you like to go, like the co-op, the farmer’s market, the library, the coffee shop, and the yoga studio.  A place that feels so familiar, so much like your last apartment as a single person, that you feel like you’ve erased the last three years of your life.  And then you realize that’s the scariest feeling you’ve ever had.  You just erased your marriage.  What “marriage,” though?

What do you do when you realize you had a wedding, but you’ve never really had a marriage?
You seek one out, from the partner you still have, at least on paper.  You call, you text, you email, you make one last effort at rescuing that relationship that was full of promises.  Promises for safety, security, stability, trust, family, future.

What do you do when your husband refuses to take your calls, refuses to answer your text messages, refuses to see you, and answers your emails with one or two words?
You begin grieving.

You go through the stages of grief in your own way, at your own pace, in your own order.  You hop back and forth between the stages, sometimes feeling multiple things in the same day, sometimes feeling multiple things at the same time.  

You deny that it’s happening, assuming he will come to his senses and come home, because coming to terms with the reality that the man who, just 18 months earlier, promised to love you and take care of you forever, now wants nothing to do with you, is too much to take in all at once.  You save your wedding photos, you save his toothbrush.  You know that he doesn’t want a divorce.  You know he still loves you.  You hope, but it fades.

You deal with the anxiety by walking, walking, walking.  (You are bummed that your knees can’t handle running any more, because you miss the feeling of really being able to POUND the pavement.)  Spend as much time with friends as you can possibly stomach as a strong introvert.  Wake up at 5 am, (or 4:45, or 4:40, or 4:30, or sometimes, 3:45,) shrug your shoulders, and start your day.  Return to church choir.  Ride your bike.  Get busy.  Stay busy.  Clean your apartment.  Clean it again.  Sign up for an 8-week professional development class.  Read, watch lectures, chat online with your classmates, write papers.  Learn a TON.  Fill up your brain.  Go, go, go.  Because, what else are you supposed to do with all of that energy?

You deal with the depression by binge-watching all nine seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” in a matter of months.  And then when that show’s over, you start in on “That 70s Show.”  Anything to distract your crazy brain and allow you to escape, for 22 minutes at a time.  You realize that you have to do something to make yourself start eating proper meals again, because the only way you are going to get through this is if you start taking better care of yourself, so you start counting calories.  You eat protein, you eat vegetables.  Smoothies are your new BFF, because you can pack in a bunch of nutrition without actually “eating.”  Smoothies, and for some reason, pita pizzas with green olives.  So many olives.  And egg salad sandwiches, huge bowls of watermelon, tomato and cucumber salads with feta, salt and vinegar roasted chickpeas, and mountains of plain, sliced cucumbers.  Thanks to careful tracking on MyFitnessPal, you lose weight.  (Which is a good thing, since this relationship and marriage helped you gain 25 pounds.)  You read an article about dealing with break-ups, and you become enthralled with the idea of “radical self-care.”  You get a haircut.  You get a pedicure for the first time in 10 years.  You start sleeping again; a few times, you sleep through your alarm and roll into work later than you’d like.  (Thankfully, you have an amazing boss.  As long as you get your work done, it really doesn’t matter what time you get in.)  You take a week-long vacation.  You buy some new clothes.  You start reading books again.  You keep walking, no longer out of freneticism, but because it feeds you.  You try to practice yoga.  You pick up little “treats” for yourself every once in a while.  Like those straw tops for wide-mouth mason jars?  Those somehow hop into your shopping basket at Target, and you just buy them.  This happens a few times with a few different things, and you just don’t have the energy to feel guilty about it.

You deal with the anger by sending scathing emails to your husband about how horribly he treated you.  You shout into his voicemail.  You send demanding, hurtful text messages.  You want him to be in as much pain as you are.  You blame him.  You want him to FEEL how much he’s hurt you.  You want him to suffer.  You put that problem as far outside yourself as you possibly can.  You cry.  A lot.  Because you’re one of those people who cries when she’s angry.  You cry at work.  You cry on the phone to your friends.  You cry in the shower.  You cry while you are eating your breakfast.  You use up all of your handkerchiefs in three days.  (You thank God for toilet paper, because you stopped buying boxes of kleenex years ago.)  You give yourself headaches and stomachaches from crying too much.  You punch pillows, stomp your feet, throw (nonbreakable) things.  (You are, after all, still an adult.)  You surprise yourself by feeling so much rage at the happiness of others — at the others around you who are getting married, buying houses, getting pregnant, having babies.  Doing all of the things you had planned on doing.  You even feel rage towards friends who come to you complaining about their live-in boyfriends or grieving their miscarriages — because, what you wouldn’t give to be in their shoes.  To be living with someone who cared for you, to have children of your own, to be trying for more.  You are appalled by this anger and rage at these people you love, these people who have nothing to do with this relationship you are grieving.  You confess and apologize to these people for this anger, and they forgive you.  They forgive you instantly, and without judgement.  You act just a little bit crazy.  You feel a lot bit crazy.  You cry to your friends that you are just so damn sick and tired of feeling this way.  Deep down, you know that you won’t feel like this forever, so you go ahead and keep crying.  You own that anger, for just a little while.

Yet, you never feel guilty.  This is both puzzling and disturbing.  You know, deep down, that although your behavior has never been perfect, you did everything you possibly could to take as good of care of your husband and your marriage as humanly possible.  You did everything you knew to do to work on yourself.  You know that there’s nothing you can do to fix or change your husband, and you know that you can’t fix your marriage by yourself.  One of your coworkers wisely suggests the only thing you need to feel responsible for is your effort.  Not his behavior, not the results … only your effort.  You know that you did give this marriage everything you had.  This is a relief, and a frustration at the same time.  Not being able to feel guilty kills you, because guilt gives you a sense of control.  And what you crave when you are under extreme stress, more than anything, is control.  You realize you have no control.  You realize that this is happening, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.  Not.  A.  Damn.  Thing.

What do you do when you wake up one morning and realize you’ve had enough?  That you deserve better?  That, indeed, you won’t feel like this forever?  That somewhere, out there, there is a man who can be in emotional partnership with you?  That, with some work, you can be ready for that partnership?

First, you hire a lawyer.  You argue with your soon-to-be-ex-husband about a financial settlement.  At the end of that argument, you get nothing, and end up paying for the whole divorce yourself.  A divorce that, still, deep down, you do not want.  Yet, you still file for divorce.  You plan to return to your maiden name, because you can’t stand the look of your name in print right now.  You start introducing yourself to people as just “Catherine,” because you don’t want to have that whole awkward conversation 15 more times. You cut ties with all of your in-laws, even though you will miss them and they want to keep in contact with you, because you know you have to.  You “unfriend” all of your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s friends on Facebook.  You wish your friends would all un-friend him, but you are too chicken to ask, because it seems petty.  You email your soon-to-be-ex-husband one last time, asking him to never contact you again.  For now, he abides by your request.  You make as clean a break as you can.

Then, you hire a therapist.  You work on yourself.  You work on figuring out why you keep choosing emotionally unavailable men, you work on figuring out why you keep finding yourself in relationship with men who can’t handle your “bad feelings.”  You work on figuring out why you keep choosing men who you can’t need.  You learn.  You grow.  You are driven by your deep desire to be a mom, and feel like you are running out of time.  You prepare to, hopefully someday soon, try again.  Someday soon, you can “do it right this time.”  Because, without hope, what do you have?

So, there’s that.  That’s what happened.

Looking back, you ask yourself, how did you cope?  How are you still coping?

You relied on all of the amazing people you have in your life.  You are grateful for that temporary financial support your family provided you.  You thank the universe for the amazing friends you have.  You grew closer with a couple of acquaintances, and reconnected with a couple of old friends.  You see these new and renewed relationships as an unexpected, amazing, albeit twisted silver lining in all of this mess.  You realize how lucky you are to have such an amazing employer, boss, and coworkers.  You thank the universe that going to work every day was a solace at this time of crisis.  You are so grateful that your coworkers asked you how you were, listened, let you cry in their cars in-between home visits, and told you that it’s okay to not be okay.

You started to take better care of yourself.  You ate beautifully, you exercised, you meditated, you journaled, you read, you sang, you did things that fed your spirit.  People that haven’t seen you in a while keep exclaiming that you look “amazing!”  You laugh to yourself, because it’s nice to fool someone; you sure don’t feel amazing.  (Yet, anyway.)

And, you made pickles.  “Divorce pickles,” as you’ve come to think of them.


Because every good foodie finds time in the kitchen therapeutic.  In the ritual, healing effects of shopping for, preparing, and enjoying a beautiful meal, you find solace.  Measuring, pouring, mixing, combining, heating, cooling … that delicate balance of chemistry and creativity that, with some labor and attention to detail, allows ingredients to combine to make something all-together spectacular.

You find peace in chopping vegetables.  LOTS of vegetables.  You decide to go through your copy of “The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” and flag every single pickling and canning recipe you’ve ever wanted to try.

And you make them ALL.  You make trips and trips to the farmer’s market.  You haul 50 pounds of tomatoes home on your bike.  You run back and forth to ACE Hardware for more jars.  More lids.  More jars.  More lids.  More jars.  You special-order a jar of magical white granules called “pickle crisp,” and you add them to your pickles.  Because you love nothing more than a crisp, well-chilled pickle.  You buy a 12-quart stockpot for tomato sauce and applesauce.  You nickname that stockpot “big red.”  You jump for joy when you remember your mom brought you her food mill when she came to visit last summer, and you never gave it back.

You fill your built-in dining room cabinets with your home-canned produce.  You keep telling yourself it’s okay, because you’ll just take pickles to every work potluck for the next two years.  You keep telling yourself it’s okay because you LOVE pickles.  Because you won’t have to buy canned tomatoes for two years, at least.  Because you’ll start baking a ton to use up all that applesauce.  Canned food keeps, right?

You make …

7 quarts of extra-garlic dill cucumber chips
7 quarts of tomato sauce
more than a gallon of sauerkraut
14 pints of diced tomatoes 
11 pints of applesauce
7 pints of dilly beans
7 pints of pickled beets
7 pints of dilly carrots
5 pints of pickled roasted red peppers
5 pints of pickled banana peppers
7 pints of jardiniere
9 8-ounce jars of Vietnamese carrot and daikon pickle
and 7 8-ounce jars of pickled red onions

You laugh a little, because your soon-to-be-ex-husband never cared for pickles.  Touché.

You survey your stash, feeling a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, yet regret not making pickled asparagus or pickled okra.

Oh well.  There’s always next year.  :)

Next year, things will be different.  Next year, you will have time for pickled asparagus and pickled okra.  And new relationships.  To quote your church choir director, “we try it again.”  

Indeed.  You will try it again.  

Until then, you’ll eat pickles.